Friday, November 30, 2007

Junk Junk

United States Of Crackpots

Near the beginning of "Saturday Night Fever," John Travolta's Tony Manero, frustrated that his boss thinks he should save his salary instead of spending it on a new disco shirt, cries out, "fuck the future!" To which his boss replies: "No, Tony, you can't fuck the future. The future fucks you! It catches up with you and it fucks you if you ain't prepared for it!"

Well, I don't know if you've noticed, but America has morphed into a nation of Tony Maneros — collectively dismissing the future. And nowhere is this mindset more prevalent than at the Bush White House, which is unwavering in its determination to ignore the future.

The evidence is overwhelming. Everywhere you look, it's IOUs passed on to future generations. Record federal debt. Record foreign debt. Record budget deficits. Record trade deficits.

And this attempt to fuck the future is not limited to economics. You see the same attitude when it comes to energy policy, health care, education, Social Security and especially the environment — with the Bushies redoubling their efforts to make the world uninhabitable as fast as possible. (See their attempts to gut the Clean Air Act, gut the Clean Water Act, gut the Endangered Species Act, gut regulations limiting pollution from power plants. And all this being above the unprecedented warmongering)

And the even bigger problem? They don't see this as a problem. In fact, it actually all may be an essential part of the plan.

If this last sentence doesn't make a wit of sense to you, then you are clearly not one of the 150 million crackpot Americans who believe in some form of End-Time philosophy, an extreme evangelical theology that embraces the idea that we are fast approaching the end of the world, at which point Jesus will return and carry all true believers — living and dead — up to heaven ("the Rapture"), leaving all nonbelievers on earth to face hellfire and damnation ("the Tribulation"). Christ and his followers will then return to a divinely refurbished earth for a thousand-year reign of peace and love.

In other words, why worry about minor little details like clean air, clean water, safe ports and the safety net when Jesus is going to give the world an "Extreme Makeover: Planet Edition" right after he finishes putting Satan in his place once and for all?

Keep in mind: This nutty notion is not a fringe belief being espoused by some street corner Jeremiah wearing a "The End Is Nigh!" sandwich board. End-Timers have repeatedly made the "Left Behind" series of apocalyptic books among America's best-selling titles, with over 60 million copies sold.

And they have also spawned a mini-industry of imminent doomsday Web sites like and The latter features a Rapture Index that, according to the site, acts as a "Dow Jones Industrial Average of end time activity" and a "prophetic speedometer" (the higher the number, the faster we're moving toward the Second Coming). For those of you keeping score, the Rapture Index is currently 152 — an off-the-chart mark of prophetic indicators.

Now I'm not saying that Bush is a delusion-driven End-Timer (although he has let it be known that God speaks to — and through— him, and he believes "in a divine plan that supersedes all human plans"). But he and his crew are certainly acting as if that's the case.

Take the jaw-dropping federal debt, which currently stands at $9 trillion. Just last month the Government Accountability Office released a report that found that Bush's economic policies "will result in massive fiscal pressures that, if not effectively addressed, could cripple the economy, threaten national security, and adversely affect the quality of life of Americans in the future."

And what was the administration's reaction to this frightening assessment? Vice President Cheney shrugged, took a hearty swig of the End-Time Kool-Aid, and announced that the administration wants another round of tax cuts. Basically a big fuck you.

Then there's the trade deficit, which ballooned to a record $165 billion in the third quarter of 2004, when imports exceeded exports by 54 percent. Thanks to this imbalance, America is racking up a staggering $665 billion in additional foreign debt every year — that's $5,500 for every U.S. household — and placing it's future economic security in the hands of others. Here is Bush's response to this daunting prospect: "People can buy more United States products if they're worried about the trade deficit." Sounds like he's really got it under control.

I guess after the Rapture, debts of all kinds will be forgiven. The White House is promoting a similar "What Me Worry?" attitude with it's live-for-the-moment energy policy. America currently spends $13 million per hour on foreign oil — a number that will only increase as U.S. oil production peaks within the next five years just as consumption by industrializing nations doubles over the next 25 years.

So is the American president pushing for a long-overdue increase in mileage standards or launching an all-out effort to break American dependence on foreign oil? Hardly. Instead, he's getting ready to make his umpteenth attempt to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling.

And that is just a small part of the president's full-bore assault on the environment, best summed up by Sen. Jim Jeffords, the ranking minority member on the Environment and Public Works Committee: "I expect the Bush Administration will go down in history as the greatest disaster for public health and the environment in the history of the United States."

That said, it's not hard to see why Bush has hopped aboard the Apocalypse Express. Acting like there's no tomorrow dovetails just as neatly with his corporate backers' rapacious desires as it does with his evangelical backers' rapturous desires. It offers him a political twofer: placating his corporate donors while winning the hearts and votes of the true believers who helped the president achieve a Second Coming of his own. No small miracle, given his record.

It's important to point out, however, that it's not just the White House and the End-Timers. Acting as if they have a finite future has infected their entire culture. Just look at personal savings, which have fallen to next to nothing, with Americans socking away a meager two-tenths of 1 percent of their disposable incomes. Meanwhile, the average U.S. household carries about $14,000 of credit-card debt; one in four consumers spends more than he or she can afford; and, as a result, every 15 seconds, someone somewhere in America is going bankrupt. Which, I guess, in Bush World is how an angel gets his wings.

Be warned, this nation of crazies is a severe threat to everyone else.


Tuesday, November 27, 2007


The Idols Of Environmentalism

ENVIRONMENTAL DESTRUCTION proceeds apace in spite of all the warnings, the good science, the 501(c)3 organizations with their memberships in the millions, the poll results, and the martyrs perched high in the branches of sequoias or shot dead in the Amazon. This is so not because of a power, a strength out there that we must resist. It is because we are weak and fearful. Only a weak and fearful society could invest so much desperate energy in protecting activities that are the equivalent of suicide.

For instance, trading carbon emission credits and creating markets in greenhouse gases as a means of controlling global warming is not a way of saying we’re so confident in the strength of the free market system that we can even trust it to fix the problems it creates. No, it’s a way of saying that we are so frightened by the prospect of stepping outside of the market system on which we depend for our national wealth, our jobs, and our sense of normalcy that we will let the logic of that system try to correct its own excesses even when we know we’re just kidding ourselves. This delusional strategy is embedded in the Kyoto agreement, which is little more than a complex scheme to create a giant international market in pollution. Even Kyoto, of which we speak longingly—“Oh, if only we would join it!”—is not an answer to our problem but a capitulation to it, so concerned is it to protect what it calls “economic growth and development.” Kyoto is just a form of whistling past the graveyard. And it is not just international corporations who do this whistling; we all have our own little stake in the world capitalism has made and so we all do the whistling.

The problem for even the best-intentioned environmental activism is that it imagines that it can confront a problem external to itself. Confront the bulldozers. Confront the chainsaws. Confront Monsanto. Fight the power. What the environmental movement is not very good at is acknowledging that something in the very fabric of our daily life is deeply anti-nature as well as anti-human. It inhabits not just bad-guy CEOs at Monsanto and Weyerhaeuser but nearly every working American, environmentalists included.

It is true that there are CEO-types, few in number, who are indifferent to everything except money, who are cruel and greedy, and so the North Atlantic gets stripped of cod and any number of other species taken incidentally in what is the factory trawler’s wet version of a scorched-earth policy. Or some junk bond maven buys up a section of old-growth redwoods and “harvests” it without hesitation when his fund is in sudden need of “liquidity.” Nevertheless, all that we perceive to be the destructiveness of corporate culture in relation to nature is not the consequence of its power, or its capacity for dominating nature ("taming," as it was once put, as if what we were dealing with was the lion act at the circus). Believing in powerful corporate evildoers as the primary source of our problems forces us to think in cartoons.

Besides, corporations are really powerless to be anything other than what they are. I suspect that, far from being perverse merchants of greed hellbent on destruction, these corporate entities are as bewildered as we are. Capitalism—especially in its corporate incarnation—has a logos, a way of reasoning. Capitalism is in the position of the notorious scorpion who persuades the fox to ferry him across a river, arguing that he won’t sting the fox because it wouldn’t be in his interest to do so, since he’d drown along with the fox. But when in spite of this logic he stings the fox anyway, all he can offer in explanation is “I did it because it is in my nature.” In the same way, it’s not as if businessmen perversely seek to destroy their own world. They have vacation homes in the Rockies or New England and enjoy walks in the forest, too. They simply have other priorities which are to them a duty.

THE IDEA THAT WE HAVE powerful corporate villains to thank for the sorry state of the natural world is what Francis Bacon called an “idol of the tribe.” According to Bacon, an idol is a truth based on insufficient evidence but maintained by constant affirmation within the tribe of believers. In spite of this insufficiency, idols do not fall easily or often. Tribes are capable of exerting will based on principles, but they are capable only with the greatest difficulty of willing the destruction of their own principles. It’s as if they feel that it is better to stagger from frustration to frustration than to return honestly to the question, does what we believe actually make sense? The idea of fallen idols always suggests tragic disillusionment, but this is in fact a good thing. If they don’t fall, there is no hope for discovering the real problems and the best and truest response to them. All environmentalists understand that the global crisis we are experiencing requires urgent action, but not everyone understands that if our activism is driven by idols we can exhaust ourselves with effort while having very little effect on the crisis. Most frighteningly, it is even possible that our efforts can sustain the crisis. The question the environmental tribe must ask is, do our mistaken assumptions actually cause us to conspire against our own interests?

The belief that corporate power is the unique source of our problems is not the only idol we are subject to. There is an idol even in the language we use to account for our problems. Our primary dependence on the scientific language of “environment,” “ecology,” “diversity,” “habitat,” and “ecosystem” is a way of acknowledging the superiority of the very kind of rationality that serves not only the Sierra Club but corporate capitalism as well. For instance:

“You can pump this many tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere without disturbing the major climatic systems.”

“This much contiguous habitat is necessary to sustain a population allowing for a survivable gene pool for this species.”

“We’ll keep a list, a running tally of endangered species (as we’ll call these animals), and we’ll monitor their numbers, and when that number hits a specified threshold we’ll say they are ‘healthy,’ or we’ll say they are ‘extinct.’ All this is to be done by bureaucratic fiat.”

I am not speaking here of all the notorious problems associated with proving scientifically the significance of environmental destruction. My concern is with the wisdom of using as our primary weapon the rhetoric and logic of the very entities we suspect of causing our problems in the first place. Perhaps we support legalistic responses to problems, with all their technoscientific descriptors, out of a sense that this is the best we can do for the moment. But the danger is always that eventually we come to believe this language and its mindset ourselves. This mindset is generally called “quantitative reasoning,” and it is second nature to Anglo-Americans. Corporate execs are perfectly comfortable with it, and corporate philanthropists give their dough to environmental organizations that speak it. Unfortunately, it also has the consequence of turning environmentalists into quislings, collaborators, and virtuous practitioners of a cost-benefit logic figured in songbirds.

It is because we have accepted this rationalist logos as the only legitimate means of debate that we are willing to think that what we need is a balance between the requirements of human economies and the “needs” of the natural world. It’s as if we were negotiating a trade agreement with the animals and trees unlucky enough to have to share space with us. What do you need? we ask them. What are your minimum requirements? We need to know the minimum because we’re not likely to leave you more than that. We’re going to consume any “excess.” And then it occurs to us to add, unless of course you taste good. There is always room for an animal that tastes good.

We use our most basic vocabulary, words like “ecosystem,” with a complete innocence, as if we couldn’t imagine that there might be something perilous in it. What if such language were actually the announcement of the defeat of what we claim to want? That’s the worm at the heart of the rose of the “ecologist.” It is something that environmentalism has never come to terms with because the very advocates for environmental health are most comfortable with the logic of science, never mind what else that logic may be doing for the military and industry. Would people and foundations be as willing to send contributions to The Nature Conservancy or the Sierra Club if the leading logic of the organization were not “ecosystems” but “respect for life” or “reverence for creation”? Such notions are, for many of us, compromised by associations with the Catholic Church and evangelicalism, and they don’t loosen the purse strings of philanthropy. “Let’s keep a nice, clean scientific edge between us and religion,” we protest. In the end, environmental science criticizes not only corporate destructiveness but (as it has always done) more spiritual notions of nature as well.

Environmentalism seems to conclude that the best thing it can do for nature is make a case for it, as if it were always making a summative argument before a jury with the backing of the best science. Good children of the Enlightenment, we keep expecting Reason to prevail (and in a perverse and destructive way, it does prevail). It is the language of “system” (nature as a kind of complicated machine) that allows most of us to feel comfortable with working for or giving money to environmental organizations. We even seem to think that the natural system should work in consort with our economic system. Why, we argue, that rainforest might contain the cure for cancer. By which we also mean that it could provide profitable products for the pharmaceutical industry and local economies. (God help the doomed indigenous culture once the West decides that it has an economy that needs assistance.) Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth may have distressing things to say about global warming, but subconsciously it is an extended apology for scientific rationality, the free market, and our utterly corrupted democracy. Gore doesn’t have to defend these things directly; he merely has to pretend that nothing else exists. Even the awe of Immanuel Kant’s famous “starry skies above” is lost to modern environmentalism, so obsessed is it with what data, graphs, and a good PowerPoint presentation can show.

In short, there would be nothing inappropriate or undesirable were we to understand our relation to nature in spiritual terms or poetic terms or, with Emerson and Thoreau, in good old American transcendental terms, but there is no broadly shared language in which to do this. So we are forced to resort to what is in fact a lower common denominator: the languages of science and bureaucracy. These languages have broad legitimacy in our culture, a legitimacy they possess largely because of the thoroughness with which they discredited Christian religious discourse in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. But many babies went out with the bath water of Christian dogma and superstition. One of those was morality. Even now, science can’t say why we ought not to harm the environment except to say that we shouldn’t be self-destructive. Another of these lost spiritual children was our very relation as human beings to the mystery of Being as such. As the philosopher G. W. Leibniz famously wondered, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” For St. Thomas Aquinas, this was the fundamental religious question. In the place of a relation to the world that was founded on this mystery, we have a relation that is objective and data driven. We no longer have a forest; we have “board feet.” We no longer have a landscape, a world that is our own; we have “valuable natural resources.” Even avowed Christians have been slow to recall this spiritualized relationship to the world. For example, only recently have American evangelicals begun thinking of the environment in terms of what they call “creation care.” We don’t have to be born again to agree with evangelicals that one of the most powerful arguments missing from the environmentalist’s case is reverence for what simply is. One of the heroes of Goethe’s Faust was a character called Care (Sorge), who showed to Faust the unscrupulousness of his actions and led him to salvation. Environmentalism has made a Faustian pact with quantitative reasoning; science has given it power but it cannot provide deliverance. If environmentalism truly wishes, as it claims, to want to “save” something—the planet, a species, itself—it needs to rediscover a common language of Care.

THE LESSONS OF OUR IDOLS come to this: you cannot defeat something that you imagine to be an external threat to you when it is in fact internal to you, when its life is your life. And even if it were external to you, you cannot defeat an enemy by thinking in the terms it chooses, and by doing only those things that not only don’t harm it but with which it is perfectly comfortable. The truth is, our idols are actually a great convenience to us. It is convenient that we can imagine a power beyond us because that means we don’t have to spend much time examining our own lives. And it is very convenient that we can hand the hard work of resistance over to scientists, our designated national problem solvers.

We cannot march forth, confront, and definitively defeat the Monsantos of the world, especially not with science (which, it should go without saying, Monsanto has plenty of). We can, however, look at ourselves and see all of the ways that we conspire against what we imagine to be our own most urgent interests. Perhaps the most powerful way in which we conspire against ourselves is the simple fact that we have jobs. We are willingly part of a world designed for the convenience of what Shakespeare called “the visible God”: money. When I say we have jobs, I mean that we find in them our home, our sense of being grounded in the world, grounded in a vast social and economic order. It is a spectacularly complex, even breathtaking, order, and it has two enormous and related problems. First, it seems to be largely responsible for the destruction of the natural world. Second, it has the strong tendency to reduce the human beings inhabiting it to two functions, working and consuming. It tends to hollow us out. It creates a hole in our sense of ourselves and of this country, and it leaves us with few alternatives but to try to fill that hole with money and the things money buys. We are not free to dismiss money because we fear that we’d disappear, we’d be nothing at all without it. Money is, in the words of Buddhist writer David Loy, “the flight from emptiness that makes life empty.”

Needless to say, many people with environmental sympathies will easily agree with what I’ve just said and imagine that in fact they do what they can to resist work and consumption, to resist the world as arranged for the convenience of money. But here again I suspect we are kidding ourselves. Rather than taking the risk of challenging the roles money and work play in all of our lives by actually taking the responsibility for reordering our lives, the most prominent strategy of environmentalists seems to be to “give back” to nature through the bequests, the annuities, the Working Assets credit cards and long distance telephone schemes, and the socially responsible mutual funds advertised in Sierra and proliferating across the environmental movement. Such giving may make us feel better, but it will never be enough. Face it, we all have a bit of the robber baron turned philanthropist in us. We’re willing to be generous in order to “save the world” but not before we’ve insured our own survival in the reigning system. It’s not even clear that this philanthropy is a pure expression of generosity since the bequest and annuity programs are carefully measured to provide attractive tax benefits and appealing rates of return.

Even when we are trying to aid the environment, we are not willing as individuals to leave the system that we know in our heart of hearts is the cause of our problems. We are even further from knowing how to take the collective risk of leaving this system entirely and ordering our societies differently. We are not ready. Not yet, at least.


Paris 1968

The Ecology Of Work


ENVIRONMENTALISTS SEE THE ASPHALTING of the country as a sin against the world of nature, but we should also see in it a kind of damage that has been done to humans, for what precedes environmental degradation is the debasement of the human world. I would go so far as to say that there is no solution for environmental destruction that isn’t first a healing of the damage that has been done to the human community. As I argued in the first part of this essay, the damage to the human world has been done through work, through our jobs, and through the world of money.

We are not the creators of our own world; we merely perform functions in a system into which we were born. The most destructive aspect of our jobs is that in them we are mere “functionaries,” to borrow Josef Pieper’s term. Just as important, we have a function outside of work: consumption. Money in hand, we go into the market to buy the goods we no longer know how to make (we don’t even know how to grow and preserve our own food) and services we no longer know how to perform (frame a house? might as well ask us to design a spaceship).

Challenging our place in this system as mere isolated functions (whether as workers or consumers) is a daunting task, especially for environmentalists, who tend to think that human problems are the concern of somebody else (labor unions, the ACLU, Amnesty International, Habitat for Humanity, etc.). We’re about the “Earth first.” My argument is simply that the threats to humans and the threats to the environment are not even two parts of the same problem. They are the same problem. For environmentalism, confronting corporations and creating indignant scientific reports about pollution is the easy stuff. But these activities are inadequate to the real problems, as any honest observer of the last thirty years of environmental activism would have to concede. The “last great places” cannot be preserved. We can no more preserve them than we can keep the glaciers from melting away. Responding to environmental destruction requires not only the overcoming of corporate evildoers but “self-overcoming,” a transformation in the way we live. A more adequate response to our true problems requires that we cease to be a society that believes that wealth is the accumulation of money (no matter how much of it we’re planning on “giving back” to nature), and begin to be a society that understands that “there is no wealth but life,” as John Ruskin put it. That is the full dimension and the full difficulty of our problem.

Unfortunately, on these shores the suggestion that there is something fundamentally destructive in work, money, and capitalism leads quickly to emotional denials. This is so even among self-described environmentalists, card-carrying members of the Sierra Club and The Nature Conservancy. So we try to persuade ourselves that capitalism can become green. I don’t believe that capitalism can become green, simply because the imperatives of environmentalism are not part of its way of reasoning. Capitalism can think profit but it can’t think nature. It’s not in its nature to think nature. What is part of its nature is marketing ("We’re organic! Buy us!"), even while its actions—industrial livestock practices that masquerade as Earth-friendly, for instance—are really only about market share, dividends, and stock value.

Capitalism as a system of ever-accelerating production and consumption is, as we environmentalists continually insist, not sustainable. That is, it is a system intent on its own death. Yet the capitalist will stoically look destruction in the face before he will stop what he’s doing, especially if he believes that it is somebody else whose destruction is in question. Unlike most of the people living under him, the capitalist is a great risk-taker largely because he believes that his wealth insulates him from the consequences of risks gone bad. Ever the optimistic gambler with other people’s money, the capitalist is willing to wager that, while there may be costs to pay, he won’t have to pay them. Animals, plants, impoverished people near and far may have to pay, but he bets that he won’t. If called upon to defend his actions, he will of course argue that he has a constitutionally protected right to property and the pursuit of his own happiness. This is his “freedom.” At that point, we have the unfortunate habit of shutting up when we ought to reply, “Yes, but yours is a freedom without conscience.”

Being willing to say such things about capitalism does not mean that one has a special access to the Truth, but it also doesn’t mean that one is a mere ideologue, or that most dismissible of things, a communist. It merely requires honesty about what looks us right in the face. It requires intellectual conscience.

For instance, as a matter of conscience we should be willing to say that the so-called greening of corporate America is not as much about the desire to protect nature as it is about the desire to protect capitalism itself. Environmentalists are, on the whole, educated and successful people, many of whom have prospered within corporate capitalism. They’re not against it. They simply seek to establish a balance between the needs of the economy (as they blandly put it) and the needs of the natural world. For both capitalism and environmentalism, there is a hard division between land set aside for nature and land devoted to production. Environmentalists consider the preservation of a forest a victory, but part of the point of that victory is (usually) that humans can’t live in this forest. Private interests have been bought out. The forest is now “set aside.” We could draw a national map that showed those spaces that we imagine conform to a fantasy of natural innocence (wilderness, forests, preserves, parks) and those spaces given over to the principles of extraction, exploitation, and profit. The boundary lines within this map are regularly drawn and redrawn by the government in some of our most bitter political fights. ("Mineral extraction! Why, that’s a national wildlife area!” “Snail darter! Why, that’s economic development!") But regardless of which political party is drawing this map, we humans are left right where we have always been, at the mercy of the boss, behaving like functionaries, and participating in the very economic activities that will continue to eat up the natural world. For all its sense of moral urgency, environmentalism too has abandoned humans to the inequalities, the exploitation, and the boredom of the market, while it tries to maintain the world of nature as a place of innocence where a candy wrapper on the ground is a blasphemy. It’s a place to go for a weekend hike before returning to the unrelenting ugliness, hostility, sterility, and spiritual bankruptcy that is the suburb, the strip mall, the office building, and the freeway (our “national automobile slum,” as James Howard Kunstler puts it). Ideally, the map of natural preservation and the map of economic activity would be one map.


HERE’S A BALD ASSERTION FOR WHICH I have no proof scientific or otherwise: a human society would never willingly harm nature. This is a way of saying that violence is not a part of human nature. This of course contradicts the opinion commonly held by Christianity and science alike that humans are by nature violent. This fatalism has the effect of making us accept wars, the victimization of the vulnerable, and the rapacious destruction of the natural world as tragic but inevitable. But what this fatalism about our “nature” ignores is the fact that the violence with which environmentalists are most concerned is not the aberrant violence of the individual human but the violence of organizations. In particular, the violence that we know as environmental destruction is possible only because of a complex economic, administrative, and social machinery through which people are separated from responsibility for their misdeeds. We say, “I was only doing my job” at the paper mill, the industrial incinerator, the logging camp, the coal-fired power plant, on the farm, on the stock exchange, or simply in front of the PC in the corporate carrel. The division of labor not only has the consequence of making labor maximally productive, it also hides from workers the real consequences of their work.

People outside of such social and economic organizations might hunt in nature, fish, gather, harvest, use nature to their own ends in countless ways, but they would never knowingly destroy it, not because they are by nature good and benevolent, but because destruction is not necessary, it’s a lot of hard work, and it’s self-evidently self-defeating. For example, the near extinction of the buffalo was not driven by the thought “Well, if I shoot one I might as well shoot them all,” or game sport gone mad, or sheer maliciousness toward the animal. Ultimately, it was driven by the market for buffalo hides in that far-off place that was never once home to a buffalo, New York City. The extermination of the buffalo was driven by the same logic that drives the clearcutting of forests and the construction of high-pollution coal-fired power plants today: entrepreneurial freedom, the desire for profit, and “jobs for working people.”

If all this is so, it is only possible to conclude from our behavior for the last two hundred years that ours is not a human society; that it is a society outside of the human in some terrible sense. And, in fact, it was one of the earliest insights of Karl Marx that the kind of work provided by capitalism was alienating. That is, it made us something other than what we are. It dehumanized us. And so, in our no-longer-human state, it became perfectly natural for us to destroy nature (which should sound to you just as perverse as the situation really is). Alienation in work means that instead of knowing something about a lot of things concerned with human fundamentals like food, housing, clothing, and the wise and creative use of our free time, we know one small thing. One task in an ocean of possible tasks.

Aldous Huxley provided a very different and a very human account of work in The Perennial Philosophy. He called it “right livelihood” (a concept he borrowed from Buddhism). For Huxley, work should serve other people, provide learning experiences that deepen the worker, and do as little harm as possible. (You will note that there is nothing in this description about a competitive compensation and benefits package.) But what percentage of American jobs conforms to this description? Five percent? Even in the new “creative” information economy where the claim could be made that computer designers and software technicians are constantly learning, is it a learning that deepens? That serves others broadly? And what of the mindless, deadening work of data processors and telemarketers—our modern, miserable Bartlebys and Cratchits—locked in their cubicles from San Jose to Bangalore? Our culture’s assumption that there is virtue in work flatters us into thinking that we’re doing something noble ("supporting our families,” “putting food on the table,” “making sacrifices") when we are really only allowing ourselves to be treated like automatons. We all have our place, our “job,” and it is an ever less human place. We are diligent, disciplined, and responsible, but because of these virtues we are also thoughtless.

TO THE END THE REIGN OF WORK as something for “functionaries,” and to end the destruction that results from that fractured form of work, we have two options. First, we can simply wait for the catastrophic failure of global capitalism as a functioning economic system. Books on peak oil, sinking water tables, and the impending doom of global warming are abundant and convincing. Huge human populations, especially in the East and Africa, are at risk of mass starvation, civil war, and the disastrous loss of human habitat due to rising ocean levels and desertification. Capitalism will have no choice but to retreat from responsibility for these crises even though they are part of the true costs of doing business.

Unfortunately, simply waiting for catastrophe doesn’t ensure that anything good will follow from it, as Darfur has illustrated. It’s true that there will be opportunities to create locally based and sustainable communities, but it’s also true that fascism, barbarism, and regression are possible. So a second option is in order. We can start providing for a different world of work now, before the catastrophe. We need to insist on work that is not destructive, that deepens the worker, that encourages her creativity. Such a transformation requires a willingness to take a collective risk, a kind of risk very different from capitalist risk taking. The kind of risk I’m suggesting is no small matter. It means leaving a culture based on the idea of success as the accumulation of wealth-as-money. In its place we need a culture that understands success as life. For John Ruskin, humans should make “good and beautiful things” because those things will re-create us as good and beautiful in their turn. To make cheap and ugly and destructive things will kill us, as indeed we are being killed through poverty, through war, through the cheapening of our public and private lives, and through the destruction of the natural world. Of course, many will argue that leaving capitalism behind is not “realistic.” “Oh, certainly,” we’re assured, “there are inequalities in capitalism, but on the whole it provides for everyone’s prosperity, it provides the greatest good for the greatest number. Why, you’ll kill the goose that lays the golden egg! Look, if there’s a patch of forest somewhere you want to save, fine, I’ll write a check. But this sort of talk is dangerous and un-American.” What we need to recognize is that the real realism for capitalism is in the consequences of its activities. As even Al Gore understands, we are living now in the early stages of an era of consequences: catastrophic climate change, species extinction, and human population collapse. It is not naïve or unrealistic to say that we ought to change; it is only tragic if we don’t.

But let’s be honest. For the moment, not even the pleasantly affluent people who regularly support the major environmental organizations (people like me) want to hear about how bad capitalism is or to think seriously about abandoning it as an organizing principle. Most of us want to believe that our quarrel is just with rogue corporations, a few “bad apples” as President Bush likes to say, and not with capitalism as such. But thinking this is simply a form of lying. We deny what we can plainly see because to acknowledge it would require the fundamental reshaping of our entire way of living, and that is (not unreasonably) frightening for most people. Nevertheless, our loyalty to capitalism makes us fools. Worse than that, we know we’re being fooled, and yet we lack the ability not to be fooled. Not for nothing did the philosopher Paul Ricoeur once observe that capitalism is “a failure that cannot be defeated.”


I AM INEVITABLY ASKED AT THIS POINT in my argument just what exactly it is that I am proposing that people do. What would I put in capitalism’s place? In reply, I am always tempted to quote Voltaire’s response to the complaint that he had nothing to put in the place of the Christianity he criticized. “What!” he said, “A ferocious beast has sucked the blood of my family; I tell you to get rid of that beast, and you ask me, what shall we put in its place!” Unlike Voltaire, I would also suggest that what has the best chance of defeating the “beast” is spirit. In accepting science as our primary weapon against environmental destruction, we have also had to accept science’s contempt for religion and the spiritual. This is the unfortunate legacy of science’s two-century-old confrontation with what it has always called “religious dogma and superstition.” But this attitude is myopic; it is science at its most stupid. Environmentalism should stop depending solely on its alliance with science for its sense of itself. It should look to create a common language of care (a reverence for and a commitment to the astonishing fact of Being) through which it could begin to create alternative principles by which we might live. As Leo Tolstoy wrote in his famous essay “My Religion,” faith is not about obedience to church dogma, and it is not about “submission to established authority.” A people’s religion is “the principle by which they live.”

The establishment of those principles by which we might live would begin with three questions. First, what does it mean to be a human being? Second, what is my relation to other human beings? And third, what is my relation to Being as such, the ongoing miracle that there is something rather than nothing? If the answer to these questions is that the purpose of being human is “the pursuit of happiness” (understood as success, which is understood as the accumulation of money); and if our relation to others is a relation to mere things (with nothing to offer but their labor); and if our relation to the world is only to “resources” (that we should exploit for profit); then we should be very comfortable with the world we have. If it goes to perdition at least we can say that we acted in good faith. But if, on the other hand, we answer that there should be a greater sense of self-worth in being a human, more justice in our relation to others, and more reverence for Being, then we must either live in bad faith with capitalism or begin describing a future whose fundamental values and whose daily activities are radically different from what we currently endure. The risk I propose is simply a return to our nobility. We should refuse to be mere functions of a system that we cannot in good conscience defend. And we should insist on a recognition of the mystery, the miracle, and the dignity of things, from frogs to forests, simply because they are.

Such a “religion” would entail a refusal to play through to the bloody end the social and economic roles into which we happen to have been born. What lies beyond the environmental movement is not only the overcoming of capitalism but self-overcoming. We take some justifiable pride in the idea that we are environmentalists, but even that identity must be transcended. A “beyond environmentalism” movement would be a sort of Party of Life. It would be a commitment to thriving, and a commitment to what is best in us. Does this mean that, for the time being, we stop working under the banner of environmentalism to oppose corporations when they are destructive? Of course not. But it is important to know that there is a problem more fundamental than a perverse “power” standing opposed to us (in villainous black caps with “Monsanto” on the brim). That deeper problem is our own integration into an order of work that makes us inhuman and thus tolerant of what is nothing less than demonic, the destruction of our own world.

THE PRINCIPLE BY WHICH THE WEST has lived for the last two centuries has been “It’s okay to use violence if you can gain something by it.” Violence against the poor, violence against the vulnerable, violence against those who possess something you want, and violence against the natural world. That is capitalism as a religious principle. What is beyond environmentalism, what is our Party of Life, is actually a return to our oldest spiritual convictions: a reverence for creation and a shared commitment to the idea that religion is finally about understanding how to live in faithful relation to what has been given to us in creation. In the end, our problem is that the busy, destructive work of functionaries has taken the place of a thoughtful, spiritual understanding about how to live. Our problem is not that we are ignoring what science has to tell us about environmental destruction. Our problem is that we are spiritually impoverished. Bankrupt, if you will.

Spiritual rebirth will mean the rediscovery of true human work. Much of this work will not be new but recovered from our own rich traditions. It will be useful knowledge that we will have to remember. Agriculture as a local and seasonal activity, not a carbon-based scheme of synthetic production and international shipping. Home- and community-building as common skills and not merely the contracted specialization of construction companies and urban planners. Even “intellectual workers” (professors and scholars) have something to relearn: their own honored place in the middle of the community and not in isolated, jargon-ridden professional enclaves.

Such knowledge was once the heart of our lives, and not that long ago. Before 1945, survival meant that most families would have all of these skills to some degree. These families were certainly materially poorer and perhaps more naïve, but they were richer in human relations, less bored, less depressed, less isolated, less addicted to food and drugs, physically healthier, and they had the rich human pleasure of knowing how to make things. It’s clear that we haven’t forgotten these skills and their pleasures entirely, but their presence for us is strange and a little unreal. What used to be life is now “fine living”: an array of expensive hobbies for the affluent that are taught through magazines, cable and PBS programs, and local guilds dedicated to gardening, basket weaving, cooking, home remodeling, quilting, and woodworking. Although we rarely recognize it in this way, through these “hobbies” we express a desire for a world that is now lost to us.

My argument is not, I assure you, a longing look back to the wonderful world of pre-war rural America. But it is to say that in the course of the last century of global capital triumphant we have been further isolated from what Ruskin called “valuable human things.” In exchange, we have been offered only the cold comfort of the television and computer monitor, and the GPS device that can locate you but only at the cost of being located in a place that is not worth knowing and certainly not worth caring about.

The turn away from this ugly, destructive, and unequal world is not something that can be accomplished by boycotting corporations when they’re bad or through the powerful work of the most concerned scientists. It will not be delivered with glossy brochures by the President’s Council on Sustainable Development, and it will certainly not be sold to you by Martha Stewart. A return to the valuable human things of the beautiful and the useful will only be accomplished, if it is ever to be accomplished, by the humans among us.



Collapse Advice

My premise is that the U.S. economy is going to collapse, that this process has already begun, and will run its course over a decade or more, with ups and downs here and there, but a consistent overall downward direction. I neither prognosticate nor wish for such an outcome; I just happen to see it as very likely. Furthermore, I do not see it as altogether bad. There are some terrible aspects to the current state of affairs, and some wonderful aspects to the post-collapse environment. For example, the air will be much cleaner, there will be no traffic jams, and people will have plenty of time to devote to their children and to people within their immediate community. Wildlife will rebound. Local culture will make a comeback. People will get plenty of exercise walking around, carrying things, and performing manual labor. They will eat smaller and healthier diets. I could go on and on, but that is not the point.

Since such a scenario might seem outlandish to some people, I would like to sketch out why I find it entirely plausible. There is an ever-increasing amount of mainstream media attention being paid to the looming energy crisis. At this point, very few people still argue that there is not a problem with the energy supply, immediately for natural gas, eventually for oil. There is also a viewpoint, which is ever more closely and persuasively argued, that what we have to look forward to is a permanent energy shortfall, which will cause economic and societal dislocations that will be monumental in scope, and will transform the patterns of everyday life. The current, consumer-friendly economy would be no more, replaced with a subsistence economy characterized by a good deal of privation and austerity.

This viewpoint is usually served up under the rubric of “Peak Oil” - the all-time global peak in the rate of extraction of conventional crude oil. The connection between the inability to goose up oil production beyond some already icecap-melting number, and the immediate trotting out of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, is not immediately obvious. But apparently the U.S. economy is a sort of pyramid scheme, based on nothing more than faith in its growth potential, and can only continue to exist while it continues to expand, by sucking in ever more resources, particularly energy. Even a small energy shortage is enough to undermine it. So Peak Oil is hardly the problem – it is the foolish notion that infinite economic growth on a finite planet is possible. Collapse can be triggered when any one of many other physical limits is exceeded - drinkable water, breathable air, arable land, and so on – and so the limit to sustained oil production is only one of many physical limits to growth.

I do not feel the need to argue for the inevitability of a permanent energy crisis, not only because others have already done so quite persuasively, but also because it involves arguing with people who do little more than shout slogans. The slogans that are heard most often range from the simplistic “There is plenty of oil!” to the ideologically hidebound “The free market will provide!” to the somewhat more nuanced but technologically implausible “Technology will provide!” to the perennially hopeful but unrealistic “Other sources of energy will be found!” There is even the refreshingly irrational “People have said that oil would run out before, and they were wrong!” repeated endlessly by Daniel Yergin, an oil historian who believes that history repeats itself endlessly, even the history of nonrenewable resource extraction. Facile notions of this sort will remain popular for some time yet, but I feel that it is already quite safe to start ignoring them.

It bears pointing out that most of us would prefer to remain blissfully unaware of any and all such arguments and notions, perhaps choosing to concern ourselves with topics less likely to depress our libido. Awareness of topics of global import is certainly not compulsory, and may not even be beneficial. Why worry about disasters we can do nothing to avert? Why not just enjoy our day in the sun, come what may? Also, large groups of people can be dangerous when panicked, and so I do not wish to panic them.

As for the few of us who are concerned, my message to you is a cheerful one, because I believe that you can still exercise some measure of control over your destiny. So, if you want some help thinking things through with a positive attitude, read on. If not, do not concern yourself unduly. Instead of reading this, you could lift your spirits by going for a drive, or going shopping, or taking a nap. Rest assured that these are all good things for you to do, the nap especially. Rather than you being menaced by some issue of global importance, any number of other unpleasant eventualities could bring about your untimely demise, on which you should likewise refrain from dwelling morbidly. Your participation in this program is optional.

The first step in this program is admitting that what is looming on your horizon is economic collapse – that the economy, as you are used to thinking about it, will cease to serve your needs. You will not hear about it on the evening news, and there will be no signs in shop windows that read “Out of business due to economic collapse.” The traditional array of experts will be on hand, claiming that prosperity is just around the corner, and offering this or that short-term fix, which, for all we know, might even work for a little while.

An economy collapses one person, one family, one community at a time. First, the dreams evaporate: the future starts looking worse than the present, and ever more uncertain. Then people are forced to withstand ever greater indignities and privations, which they tend to accept as their personal failings. The resulting stress causes them to experience a variety of physical and psychological symptoms. Our pride, our habits and expectations, and our unwillingness to adapt, can kill us faster than any physical hardship. But eventually something has to give, and even if life does not get any easier, one morning we wake up, and not only has life all around us been transformed out of all recognition, but everyone we encounter recognizes that times have changed. And we realize that none of this is about us personally, and feel better.

I feel qualified to write on this subject because I had the opportunity to observe an economic collapse firsthand. I did some of my growing up in the Soviet Union, and the rest in the United States. I have visited Russia repeatedly, on personal trips and on business, during the years of Perestroika, the ensuing collapse, and the lean years of the 1990s. I feel equally at home, or, on occasion, lost, in both places. Unlike most Russian émigrés who witnessed the collapse, I was fascinated rather than traumatized by my experiences there, and have not tried to blot them out of my memory, as many of them have. Also unlike most émigrés, I know quite a lot about the United States, its society and its economy, see its fateful weaknesses, and care about what happens here. When peering apprehensively into the unknown, it is useful to have as your guide someone who has already been there. Since no such guide is available, you will have to make do with someone who has been someplace vaguely similar.


The main use of oil in the United States is for transportation. Once the crisis gets underway, there will be much less transportation available, of goods as well as of people, at any price, exacerbated by the lack of public transportation infrastructure. The U.S. Gross Domestic Product turns out to be almost strictly proportional the number of vehicle miles traveled, and this implies that large reductions in the availability of transportation will translate into similar-sized reductions in the size of the economy overall. A few years on, roads and bridges will start falling into disrepair, making travel slow and difficult even when enough fuel for the trip can be found. People will be forced to stay put most of the time, perhaps making seasonal migrations, and to make use of what they have available in the immediate vicinity.

To see what that will be like for you, all you have to do is to give up driving; not cut down on driving, but sell your car, and refuse to ride in one on a regular basis. If this forces you relocate, or to switch jobs or careers, you should probably do so now. You will be forced to do so, when everyone else tries to do it at the same time. I sold my car a few years ago, and my life got better, not worse. Now I work within bicycling distance from home. I am physically fit because I ride for at least an hour a day, and I am saving more money than I was before because I do not have the expense of keeping a car. If you have children that ride the school bus to school, assume that the school bus will not run any more. You might be able to work out a home schooling arrangement, or find another school closer to home that the kids can walk or bicycle to.

Food and Clothing

Consumer society, as it currently exists in the United States, is propped up by the still relatively cheap and accessible energy, and by the fact that the Chinese, and other nations, are still willing to dispense goods to us on credit. This credit is secured by the promise of future economic growth in the United States, which is already being whittled down by the high energy prices. Thus, the energy crisis will in due course translate into a consumer goods crisis.

Therefore, as part of your exercise, assume that every supermarket and big box store is out of business, driven bankrupt by the high cost (and low availability) of diesel, electricity, and natural gas. Shop only at the local farmer's markets, small neighborhood groceries, and thrift stores. Buy as few new things as possible: trash-pick what you can, and repair items instead of replacing them. Learn to grow or gather at least some of your food. To buy staples such as rice, travel into town and buy them in bulk from small immigrant-owned groceries – you can be sure that these will be around even after the supermarkets are gone.


If your lease or mortgage requires you to have a full-time job in order to afford it, find a way to change your living situation to one that you can keep even when there is no more work. If you can cash out your equity and buy a place that is smaller, but that you can own free and clear, do so.

Pay particular attention to how difficult a place will be to heat; do not assume that heating oil, natural gas, or large quantities of firewood will be available or affordable. Also, pay very close attention to the neighbors. Are they people you know and trust? Will they help you? Do not assume that there will be police protection or emergency services. If you live in an area with a history of ethnic strife, how sure are you that you will be able to find a common language and make peace with everyone there, even people whose culture and background are vastly different from yours?

Know where to escape to in case your primary residence becomes unlivable, either permanently or for a time. Your arrangements might be as simple as a friend's couch, or a campsite that you rent by the season, or some land where you know you can camp, or an unused farm, ranging all the way to an alternative residence somewhere else in the world that you can relocate to.


If you have or foresee significant ongoing medical needs, staying in the United States will pose a unique set of problems; you might even consider seeking refuge in one of the many countries that provide free basic and emergency medical care to their entire population. The United States is a very special case in having made basic medicine into a profit-making industry rather than a social service. The medical system here has become a parasite, bloated and ineffectual. The doctors are saddled with unreasonable regulations and financial liabilities.

When it comes to medicine, almost any country in the world will be better than one that is full-up with unemployed medical specialists, insurance consultants, and medical billing experts. In Belize, which is quite a poor country, I received prompt and excellent free emergency medical care from a Cuban medic. In the U.S., in similar circumstances, I had to wait 8 hours at an emergency room, then was seen for five minutes by a sleep-deprived intern who scribbled out a prescription for something that is available without a prescription almost everywhere else in the world. Then there ensued a paper battle between the hospital and the insurance company, lasting for many months, over whether the hospital could charge for a doctor's visit on top of the emergency room visit. Apparently, in U.S. emergency rooms, doctors are optional.

There are specific steps you may be able to take to avoid having to depend on the medical system. Do whatever you can to be in good health, by getting enough sleep and exercise, and by avoiding unnecessary stress. Avoid processed food and junk food. If you do not feel well, get plenty of rest, instead of medicating yourself and attempting to keep to your schedule. Unless your life is in danger, try to do without maintenance regimens of prescription drugs, keeping in mind what will happen when you lose access to them. Be sure to have a living will that allows your family to have control of your medical care. Look for alternative medicines for symptomatic relief of minor complaints.


For several decades now, the U.S. Dollar has been able to keep its value in the face of ever larger trade and fiscal imbalances largely because it is the currency most of the world uses when buying oil. Other nations are forced to export products to the United States because this is the only way for them to gather the dollars they need to purchase oil. This has produced a continuous windfall for the U.S. Treasury. This state of affairs is coming to an end: as more and more oil-producing nations find alternative ways of doing business with their customers, trading oil for Euros, or for food, the U.S. Dollar erodes in value. As the Dollar drops in value, the price of an ever-increasing list of essential imports goes up, driving up inflation. At some point, inflation will start to feed on itself, and will give rise to hyperinflation.

If your immediate thought is, “Hyperinflation in the U.S.? Impossible!” then you are not alone. A lot of people have trouble thinking about the possibility of hyperinflation, economists among them. Hyperinflation, they say, requires the government to emit vast amounts of money, which, being a good, prudent government, it simply will not do. But this government is drowning in red ink, and will do what desperate governments have always done: opt for inflating its debt away rather than defaulting on it, to retain at least some spending ability in the face of a collapsing tax base and dried-up foreign credit. The people at the Fed do have to be kept fed, after all.

Alan Greenspan, Chairman of the Fed, has voiced the viewpoint that since oil expenditure is such a small percentage of the overall economy, increased oil prices will have little effect on it, and, of course, he is right. I am, however, still a bit concerned about lower overall quantities of oil, regardless of the price, because these would result in less economic activity. What I would like Mr. Greenspan to reassure me on is, How is a small national economy going to be able to support a big national debt? By the way, I have an idea: print some money.

Others who doubt the inevitability of hyperinflation point to the weakness of trade unions, and say that workers in the U.S. are too badly organized to bargain collectively and secure cost of living adjustments that would propel the economy along an inflationary spiral. These people seem to feel that the workers will somehow continue to be able to work even as their entire paycheck disappears as they buy gasoline for their daily commute. They remind me of the proverbial farmer who trained his horse to stop eating, and almost succeeded, but unfortunately the horse died first. Those who have work that needs to be done will have to make it physically possible for someone to do it.

There are also plenty of people in this country – the ones who are closer the top of the economic food chain, or just feel like they are – who will pay themselves whatever they require, giving themselves, and those upon whose loyalty they must depend, any cost of living adjustment they deem necessary. They will continue doing so until they are bankrupt. Because wealth is distributed so unevenly, these people make a disproportionately large difference.

Lastly, there is a large group of people who feel that such matters are for economists to decide. But decide for yourself: in March of 1999, The Economist magazine ran an article entitled “Drowning in Oil.” In December of the same year, it was compelled to publish a retraction. Economists are starting to look a bit ridiculous, as their predictive abilities are repeatedly shown to be quite feeble. Moreover, the whole discipline of economics is starting to become irrelevant, because its main concern is with characterizing a system – the fossil fuel-based growth economy – which is starting to collapse.

Perhaps the difficulty in reconciling oneself to such a possibility stems from history and culture, not economics. Unlike the Russians or the Germans, whose historical memory includes one or more episodes of hyperinflation, it is hard for Americans to imagine living in a time when their paper money is not worth its weight in toilet paper. But such conditions have been known to occur. Savings boil off into the ether. People who still receive paychecks or retirement checks cash them immediately, and do their best to buy the things they need to survive as quickly as they can, before the prices go up again.

There are some steps you can take to prepare yourself for life without money. For a time, you might not have an income at all, or an income so meager it will not be enough for even one meal a day, so find out just how little money you need to stay active and healthy. Learn to rely on family, friends, and acquaintances. Find out what you can take from them, and what you have to offer in return.

Perhaps most importantly, assume that your retirement income, whether government or private, will in due course become quite close to zero, and make some other arrangements for your old age. If you have children, start buttering them up now – you will need their help to survive in your dotage. If you do not have children, then think about having some, or adopting one or two. If you do not have or want children, then be sure to have some good friends who are younger than you.

For each economic arrangement involving money, try to come up with an alternative arrangement that does not involve money. For example, if you pay a baby-sitter, try to find a baby-sitter who is willing to work in exchange for lessons. If you pay rent, find a caretaker situation where you pay with your labor. If you pay for food, start growing your own food.

As you are learning to live with less and less money, you will inevitably find that the money system works to your disadvantage. If you have debt, it becomes harder and harder to make the payments. If you own property, it becomes harder and harder to afford the taxes. The money system takes a bite out of everything you do. But this is true only if your economic relationships are monetized – if they have monetary value and involve the exchange of money. As you try to reduce your dependence on the money economy, you will need to invent ways to demonetize your life, and that of the people around you.

Savings and personal property can be transformed into the stock in trade of human relationships, which then give rise to reciprocal flows of gifts and favors – efficient, private, and customized to personal needs. This requires a completely different mindset from that cultivated by the consumer society, which strives to standardize and reduce everything, including human relationships, to a client-server paradigm, in which money flows in one direction, while products and services flow in the opposite direction. Customer A gets the same thing as customer B, for the same price.

This is very inefficient from a personal perspective. Resources are squandered on new products whereas reused ones can work just as well. Everyone is forced to make do with mediocre, off-the-shelf products that are designed for planned obsolescence and do not suit them as well as one crafted to suit their specific needs. A commodity product can be manufactured on the opposite side of the planet, whereas a custom one is likely to be made locally, providing work for you and the people in your community. But this is also very efficient, from the point of view of extracting profits and concentrating wealth while depleting natural resources and destroying the environment. However, this is not the sort of efficiency you should be concerned with: it is not in your interest.

This, then, is the correct stance vis à vis the money economy. You should appear to have no money or significant possessions. But you should have access to resources, such as food, clothing, medicine, places to stay and work, and even money. What you do with your money is up to you. For example, you can simply misplace it, the way squirrels do with nuts and acorns. Or you can convert it into communal property of one sort or another. You should avoid getting paid, but you should accept gifts, and, of course, give gifts in return. You should never work for money, but always donate your time and effort charitably. You should have a minimum of personal possessions, but plenty to share with others. Developing such a stance is hard, but, once you do, life actually gets better. Moreover, by adopting such a stance, you become collapse-proof.


The American justice system favors the educated, the corporations, and the rich, and takes unfair advantage of the uneducated, the private citizen, and the poor. It would seem that almost any legal entanglement can be resolved through the judicious application of money, while almost any tussle with the law can result in financial penalties and even imprisonment for those who are forced to rely on public defenders.

Many people naïvely believe that a criminal is someone who commits a criminal act. This is not true, at least not in the American system of justice. Here, a criminal is someone who has been accused of committing a criminal act, tried for it, and found guilty. Whether or not that person has in fact committed the act is immaterial: witnesses may lie, evidence can be fabricated, juries can be manipulated. A person who has committed a criminal act but has not been tried for it, or has been tried and exonerated, is not a criminal, and for anyone to call him a criminal is libelous.

It therefore follows that, within the American justice system, committing a crime and getting away with it is substantially identical to not committing a crime at all. Wealthy clients have lawyers who are constantly testing and, whenever possible, expanding the bounds of legality. Corporations have entire armies of lawyers, and can almost always win against individuals. Furthermore, corporations use their political influence to promote the use of binding arbitration, which favors them, as the way to resolve disputes.

This state of affairs makes it hopelessly naïve for anyone to confuse legality with morality, ethics, or justice. You should always behave in a legal manner, but this will not necessarily save you from going to jail. In what manner you choose to behave legally is between you and your conscience, God, or lawyer, if you happen to have one, and may or may not have anything to do with obeying laws. Legality is a property of the justice system, while justice is an ancient virtue. This distinction is lost on very few people: most people possess a sense of justice, and, separate from it, an understanding of what is legal, and what they they can get away with.

The U.S. legal system, as it stands, is a luxury, not a necessity. It is good to those who can afford it, and bad for those who cannot. As ever-increasing numbers of people find that they cannot pay what it takes to secure a good outcome for themselves, they will start to see it not as a system of justice, but as a tool of oppression, and will learn to avoid it rather than to look to it for help. As oppression becomes the norm, at some point the pretense to serving justice will be dispensed with in favor of a much simpler, efficient, streamlined system of social control, perhaps one based on martial law.

People have been known to get along quite happily without written law, lawyers, courts, or jails. Societies always evolve an idea of what is forbidden, and find ways to punish those who transgress. In the absence of an official system of justice, people generally become much more careful around each other, because running afoul of someone may lead to a duel or give rise to a vendetta, and because, in the absence of jails, punishments tend become draconian, coming to include dispossession, banishment, and even death, which are all intended to deter and to neutralize rather than to punish. When disputes do arise, lay mediators or councils may be appealed to, to help resolve them.

The transition to a lower-energy system of jurisprudence will no doubt be quite tumultuous, but there is something we can be sure of: many laws will become unenforceable at its very outset. This development, given our definition of what is criminal, will de facto decriminalize many types of behavior, opening new, relatively safe avenues of legal behavior for multitudes of people, creating new opportunities for the wise, and further tempting the evil and the foolish.

As a safety precaution, you might want to distance yourself from the legal system, and, to the extent that this is possible, find your own justice. As an exercise, examine each of your relationships that is based on a contract, lease, deed, license, promissory note, or other legal instrument, and look for ways to replace it with relationships that are based on trust, mutual respect, and common interest. Think of ways to make these relationships work within the context of friendships and familial ties.

To protect yourself from getting savaged by the justice system as it degenerates into oppression, try to weave a thick web of informal interdependency all around you, where any conflict or disagreement can be extinguished by drawing in more and more interested parties, all of them eager to resolve it peaceably, and none of them willing to let it escalate beyond their midst. Struggle for impartiality when attempting to mediate disputes, and be guided by your wisdom and your sense of justice rather than by laws, rules, or precedents, which offer poor guidance in changing times.


Saturday, November 24, 2007


Smoke & Mirrors

The market for derivatives grew at the fastest pace in at least nine years to $516 trillion in the first half of 2007, the Bank for International Settlements said.

Credit-default swaps, contracts designed to protect investors against default and used to speculate on credit quality, led the increase, expanding 49 percent to cover a notional $43 trillion of debt in the six months ended June 30, the BIS said in a report published late yesterday.

Derivatives of debt, currencies, commodities, stocks and interest rates rose 25 percent from the previous six months, the biggest jump since the Basel, Switzerland-based bank began compiling the data. Investors have been turning to credit derivatives as a way to speculate on a growing risk of defaults amid record U.S. mortgage foreclosures.

``The pace of increase in the credit segment outstripped the rises in other risk categories,'' Christian Upper, a BIS analyst in Basel, wrote in the report. Credit-default swaps are ``the dominant instrument,'' accounting for 88 percent of credit derivatives, the BIS said.

The money at risk through credit-default swaps increased 145 percent from last year to $721 billion, the report said. The amount at stake in the entire derivatives market is $11.1 trillion, according to the BIS, which was formed in 1930 to monitor financial markets and regulate banks.

Interest Rates

Derivatives are financial instruments derived from stocks, bonds, loans, currencies and commodities, or linked to specific events like changes in interest rates or the weather. The report is based on contracts traded outside of exchanges in over-the- counter market.

Increased trading pushed ICAP Plc to a record this week as the world's largest broker of transactions between banks reported a 34 percent increase in net income to 80.1 million pounds ($164.4 million). The London-based company, which profits when prices fluctuate, handled a record amount of transactions as financial institutions bet on or hedged against losses linked to home loans.

The Markit CDX North American Index of credit-default swaps on 125 investment-grade rated companies has almost tripled since February to 90 basis points from 33.

Buyers of credit-default swaps receive the face value of underlying debt in the event of nonpayment, in return for the defaulted securities or cash equivalent. A basis point increase in the cost of a contract covering $10 million of debt is equivalent to $1,000 a year.

Interest Rates

Interest-rate derivatives remained the largest part of the market, gaining 19 percent to $347 trillion outstanding by June, the report said. Single currency interest-rate swaps made up 79 percent of the market.

Foreign exchange derivatives grew by 21 percent to $49 trillion as the dollar declined 2.5 percent against the euro in the first half. Contracts on the Swiss franc increased 32 percent, trailed by 27 percent increases in both the U.K. pound and the Canadian dollar contracts, the BIS said.

Equity market derivatives grew by 23 percent in the first half to $9 trillion. Growth was highest in Latin America equity derivatives at 43 percent and lowest in Japan at 6 percent. Japan's Nikkei 225 index rose 4.8 percent during the period while the MSCI Latin America index increased 25 percent.


Saturday, November 17, 2007


Tokyo Balearic

Living in our urban jungle information flashes past us through the internet, mobile phones and TV faster than the speed of thought. We are plugged in and logged in beyond the point of information saturation and overload. Everyday in the digital fog the real and important information is lost. As the knowledge from our experiences is diluted by chemical agents and electromagnetic waves we find ourselves exposed to 24H junk food, cheap liquor, mindless music and desensitized people. The society we live in is the most unnatural in the history of mankind and as the human desire to consume and control grows we will ultimately destroy our world.

Humans are animals that have evolved in a natural habitat for many thousands of years and our physiology requires that we have sunshine, fresh air, organic food, music and rhythm. The innovators and pioneering music makers such as YMO, Giorgio Moroder, Larry Levan (R.I.P.) and Ron Hardy (R.I.P.) led us out of the darkness in the past and now we need to head into a brighter future. Whether we are in Tokyo, Beijing, Pyongyang, Paris, Baghdad, Kabul, Berlin, Barcelona, London or New York the world must find a common language.

Those in Tokyo being at the forefront of the technology devolution have created the new language of 120BPM Trance. Typically psychedelic or rave style trance surges forward at 140+ BPM crushing all in its path and lashing people who demand an escape from reality with noise. It creates dissenters and turns people off but within its details lies a secret and infinite possibilities are unlocked by lowering the BPM and reclaiming the funk, tuning it to a natural human tempo. By learning from our past our DJ crew is rewriting our common language creating a new brighter future with a sound like no other.

Technology is put under our control and pushed to its extremes to accommodate our new vision. Our turntables are customized with the pitch control dropping the tempo by -13.5%. Dampers are added to stabilize the turntables and the stylus, with a needle pressure of 1g draws a deeper and cleaner bass out from the vinyl.. The decks are wired through a first edition UREI 1620 mixer and into a tuned soundsystem consisting of four of ATCs flagship SCM100ASL mid-high range active speakers and four Funktion One 18h bass bin towers. No isolators are used and all music is played from one track per side mastered 12" vinyl.

The DJ is positioned in the middle of the sound of the four speaker tower so no monitor speakers are used. The sound the DJ hears is that which is heard on the dancefloor building the unity between the DJ and the audience. The DJ also overlays the sound from a Schumann Wave Generator, amplifying the resonant frequency of the Earth and her atmosphere, purifying negative energies and correcting electromagnetic disharmony.

While one floor moves to the sound of the future 120 BPM contemporary Balearic Trance, the other is educational and highlights the history of Balearic classics. The whole experience is complimented by organic eRakuichi Rakuzaf booths serving quality refreshments. 'Ayanas' creates a more natural atmosphere by creating a green and lush background of healing plants and flowers. 'Karava' delights your senses while 'Sala Shanti' massages your body and soul.

A world renowned sound system. A Schumann Wave Generator. The dancfloor pulses. Past meets future. One world under one groove. Tokyo Balearic. The healing revolution starts here.


Friday, November 16, 2007


Egon Schiele

Austrian painter, draftsman, and printmaker, known for his paintings of angular, anguished figures. His nudes have a frankly sexual quality despite the awkwardness of their lonely, emaciated forms. In his many self-portraits, contorted figures crouch in uncomfortable positions, starkly framed against blank backgrounds, with limbs cut off by the edges of the picture. Schiele drew these works using simple ink lines accented with blotches of watercolors that suggest diseased flesh.

Schiele’s work helped define an Austrian version of expressionism, an art movement that had recently gained hold in Germany. Expressionism advocated distortion or exaggeration to express a personal or emotional vision. Schiele’s interest in expressionism was inspired by the work of Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh, French artist Paul Gauguin, and the German expressionist group Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), with whom he exhibited briefly in 1912.

Born in Tullin, near Vienna, Schiele was accepted to Vienna’s Academy of Fine Arts at the age of 16. In 1907 Schiele became a close friend and admirer of Austrian artist Gustav Klimt. Schiele’s early work emulated Klimt’s elegantly ornamental art nouveau style. Although this influence remained evident in the decorative patterns with which Schiele depicted clothing and landscapes, Schiele soon developed his own more expressive style of distorted outlines. In 1909 Schiele led a small group of students who sought creative freedom from the Academy and formed the Neukunstgruppe (New Art Group). That same year Schiele showed several paintings at Vienna’s International Art Exhibition of 1909, at the age of just 19.

In 1911 Schiele moved to the town of Krumau (now Ceský Krumlov, Czech Republic), where he painted self-portraits, nudes, and landscapes. Local residents objected to the sexuality of his drawings, and after only three months he moved to Neulengbach, near Vienna. Schiele’s disturbingly erotic works and use of very young girls for models led to his arrest and brief imprisonment in 1912 for corruption of minors.


Thursday, November 15, 2007


Blue Rider

Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) was a group of artists from the Neue Künstlervereinigung München secessioning in Munich, Germany. Der Blaue Reiter was a German movement lasting from 1911 to 1914, fundamental to Expressionism, along with Die Brücke which was founded the previous decade in 1905. Wassily Kandinsky, Franz Marc, August Macke, Alexej von Jawlensky, Marianne von Werefkin, Lyonel Feininger, Albert Bloch and others founded the group in response to the rejection of Kandinsky's painting Last Judgement from an exhibition. Der Blaue Reiter lacked a central artistic manifesto, but was centred around Kandinsky and Marc. Artists Gabriele Münter and Paul Klee were also involved.

The name of the movement comes from a painting by Kandinsky created in 1903. It is also claimed that the name could have derived from Marc's enthusiasm for horses and Kandinsky's love of the colour blue. For Kandinsky, blue is the colour of spirituality: the darker the blue, the more it awakens human desire for the eternal (see his 1911 book On the Spiritual in Art).

Within the group, artistic approaches and aims varied from artist to artist; however, the artists shared a common desire to express spiritual truths through their art. They believed in the promotion of modern art; the connection between visual art and music; the spiritual and symbolic associations of colour; and a spontaneous, intuitive approach to painting. Members were interested in European medieval art and primitivism, as well as the contemporary, non-figurative art scene in France. As a result of their encounters with cubist, fauvist and Rayonist ideas, they moved towards abstraction.

Der Blaue Reiter organized exhibitions in 1911 and 1912 that toured Germany. They also published an almanac featuring contemporary, primitive and folk art, along with children's paintings. In 1913 they exhibited in the first German Herbstsalon.

The group was disrupted by the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. Franz Marc and August Macke were killed in combat. Wassily Kandinsky, Marianne von Werefkin and Alexej von Jawlensky were forced to move back to Russia because of their Russian citizenship. There were also differences in opinion within the group. As a result, Der Blaue Reiter was short-lived, lasting for only three years from 1911 to 1914. In 1923 Kandinsky, Feininger, Klee and Alexej von Jawlensky formed Die Blaue Vier (the Blue Four) and exhibited and lectured together in the United States of America in 1924.

An extensive collection of paintings by Der Blaue Reiter is exhibited in the Städtische Galerie in the Lenbachhaus in Munich.


Tuesday, November 13, 2007


Money Conspiracy

Let's be clear at the outset. The US Federal Reserve, Bank of England, Bank of Japan and the European Central Bank (for the 12 European countries that adopted the single euro currency in 1999) are institutions with enormous power far beyond what most people everywhere can imagine. These most dominant of all central banks, as well as most others, have a powerful influence on the financial conditions in virtually all countries including their own, of course, in an increasingly borderless financial world where a significant economic event in one nation can affect most others for better or worse.

One other powerful bank is also part of today's financial world. It needs mentioning because of its importance, even though it requires a separate article to explain how it works more fully. It's the secretive, inviolable and accountable to no one Bank of International Settlements (BIS) founded in 1930 and based in Basle, Switzerland. This bank most people never heard of is the central banker to its member central banks - a sort of banking "boss of bosses" equivalent to what apparently exists in the shadowy world of Mafia dons. Like most other central banks, including the Federal Reserve (explained below), it's privately owned by its members.

It's believed by some academicians and others who've studied the BIS that the ruling elite of financial capitalism established this bank of banks to be the apex of power to exercise authority over a world financial system owned and controlled by them. It's thought their plan was to use this bank to dominate the political system of every country and control the world economy in a feudalistic fashion. In a word, the thinking goes that these super-elite want to rule the world by controlling its money, and they set up this supranational all-powerful bank of banks to do it. As important as that is, that discussion remains for another time as the intent of this article is to focus solely on the US Federal Reserve.

The dominant central banks and BIS, together with most others, wield their influence in cartel-like alliance with each other to assure they all benefit more than they otherwise would without such a cozy arrangement. With their immense power it's no play on words to say these financial institutions do indeed rule the world. Because they're able to create money, they fund the needs of their governments, their militaries and all business activity that couldn't function without a ready supply of that most needed of all commodities. It's money, not love, that makes the world go round, and central bankers have the power to create or remove from circulation as much or little of it as they choose and for whatever purpose they have in mind. That kind of power can move mountains or destroy them.

No nation's central bank is more powerful today than the US Federal Reserve, but it wasn't always that way, and it now has competition for the top spot it hasn't known since WW II. The Fed, as it's called, has existed since it was first established by an act of Congress in 1913. But the Bank of England has been around since Britannia ruled the waves beginning in 1694 when King William III needed help funding the kind of escapade that takes lots of ready cash - war. Back then it was with France, and the king needed a friendly banker to print it up for him to help him fight it. He also needed financial help to facilitate trade and manage the country's debt that always mounts up when wars are fought. The Bank of England wasn't the first central bank, but it was the modern world's first privately owned one in a powerful country. It was called the Bank of England to keep the public from knowing that it, like our Federal Reserve, was and still is privately owned and not part of the government. It was also the model used in the formation of the US central bank and most others.

It All Began in 1910 On Jekll Island

It sounds like the title of a horror movie, but the real life events that happened at this privately owned island off the coast of Georgia in 1910 would have challenged even the Hollywood bad dream factory to come up with.

It was here that seven very rich and powerful men met in secret for nine days and created the Federal Reserve System that came into being three years later on December 23, 1913 by an act of Congress. Since that time, the nation and world would never be the same, but only the rich and powerful were the beneficiaries. That was the whole idea, and it worked as planned.

The Federal Reserve Act that began it all must surely rank as one of the most disastrous and outrageous pieces of legislation to the public welfare ever to come out of any legislative body. It may have also have been and still is illegal according to Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution which happens to be the inviolable law of US. The article states that Congress shall have the power to coin (create) money and regulate the value thereof. In 1935, the US Supreme Court ruled the Congress cannot constitutionally delegate its power to another group or body. The Congress thus acted in violation of the Constitution it's sworn to uphold and in so doing created the Federal Reserve System that, as will be explained below, is a private for-profit corporation operating at the expense of the public welfare. By its action, our lawmakers committed fraud against the people of the country and so far have gotten away with it without the public even knowing about the harm done.

The shameful result is that what should have arrived stillborn is now the most dominant institution on earth, and all because of what began on a privately owned island with a scary name. But had the US Congress acted responsibly, the act of Fed creation might never have happened. The legislation establishing it was so harmful to the public interest, it likely never would have passed if it hadn't been shepherded through a carefully prepared Congressional Conference Committee meeting scheduled for between 1:30 - 4:30 AM (when most members of Congress were asleep) on December 22, 1913. The Act was then voted on the next day and passed although many members of the body had left for the Christmas holidays and most others who stayed behind hadn't had time to read it or know its contents. Sound familiar? Still it passed (like a thief in the night) and was signed into law by an unwitting or complicit Woodrow Wilson who later admitted he made a terrible mistake saying "I unwittingly ruined my country."

The men that met on Jekyll Island represented some of the richest and most powerful men in the world - the Morgans, Rockefellers, Rothschilds of Europe (who dominated all European banking by the mid-1800s and became and still may be the wealthiest and most powerful family of all) and others of great influence and power. Included was a US senator, a high ranking Treasury official, the president of the largest bank in the country at the time, a leading Wall Street figure and the man who would later become the first chairman of the Federal Reserve System. It was quite an assemblage, and they came to accomplish one thing. They wanted to change the ideology and course of American business that up to then was based on marketplace competition and replace it with monopoly. They also knew what Baron M.A. Rothschild understood when he once said: "Give me control over a nation's currency and I care not who makes its laws." They knew the wisdom of what's stated in Proverbs 22:7 as well: "The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender."

This was the dawning of the age of powerful cartels when the seven financial titans meeting secretly in the island's clubhouse decided no longer to compete with each other and wanted the power to arrange it. They were already colluding informally but knew it would all work better under a legally sanctioned cartel. They wanted a banking cartel and got one that flourishes today below the public radar with the tool they wanted most - the ability to control the nation's money supply that gave them almost unlimited power. The cartel now works cooperatively with their governments and all other powerful transnational corporations in a dominant global alliance that allows them to control the world's markets, resources, cheap labor and our lives.

The Federal Reserve System Is Not A Government Agency - It's A Privately Owned Cartel of Powerful Banks Protected By Law

It's commonly but falsely believed the Federal Reserve System is a function of government and subject to its control. False. It's often referred to as a quasi-governmental, decentralized central bank, but that's just cover to disguise what, in fact, it really is: a privately held and operated cartel made to look like the government is in charge. The fact that it's headquartered in Washington in the formidable and impressive-looking Eccles building (named after a former Fed chairman) is just part of the clever subterfuge. Here's how it works:

The Fed is composed of a Board of Governors in Washington and 12 regional banks in major cities throughout the country (including in my own city of Chicago where anyone once but no longer could walk up to a teller's window and buy US Treasury securities). The system also includes many and various member banks including all national banks that are required to be part of the system. Other banks were also allowed to join and many did. The Federal Reserve began operating in November, 1914, almost one year after the Congressional act creating the system the previous year as explained above. It was mandated by law to have the greatest power of any institution in the country - the power to create and control the nation's money supply.

The Federal Reserve Act of 1913 stipulates that the Federal Reserve Banks of each region are owned by the member banks in it. These Fed banks are privately owned corporations that make a great effort to hide the fact that they, in fact, own what the public largely thinks is part of the public treasury and government. It's easy to think that as Fed chairmen and seven of the twelve Governors are appointed by the President and approved by the Senate. As such, the FRB is a sort of quasi-government entity, but the fact is the System is a privately owned for profit enterprise just like any other business. It has stockholders like other public corporations that are paid 6% risk free interest every year on their equity holdings. The public doesn't know this, and it likely wouldn't be good PR if it found out. People might be even more upset if they learned some of the owners of our Federal Reserve are powerful foreign investors in the UK, France, Germany, The Netherlands and Italy. They're partners with giant US banks like JP Morgan Chase and Citibank as well as powerful Wall Street firms like Goldman Sachs in a new world order banking cartel that influences and affects business activity everywhere and our lives.

The issue of private ownership of the Federal Reserve Banks has been challenged several times in the federal courts to no avail. Each time the courts upheld the current system under which each Federal Reserve Bank is a separate corporation owned by commercial banks in its region. One such case was Lewis v. United States that was decided by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that ruled the Reserve Banks are independent, privately owned and locally controlled corporations.

The FOMC and How It Works

The Fed was given the authority to conduct the nation's monetary policy with the power to control the supply and price of money. It has three ways to do it - through open market operations, the discount rate it charges member banks, and the reserve requirement percentage of member banks assets it requires them to hold and not loan out. The Board of Governors is responsible for handling the discount rate and reserve requirements while the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) is in charge of the open market operations of buying or selling bonds explained further below. Using these tools, the Fed is able to influence the supply and demand for money and thus directly control the federal funds short-term rate that's always fixed unless the Fed wishes to raise or lower it. Longer rates are controlled by the powerful institutional traders in the bond market.

The Federal Open Market Committee is really key to the whole process of money creation or contraction. It consists of 12 members - seven members of the Board of Fed Governors, the president of the New York Fed Bank (the most important one of all) and four of the remaining 11 Reserve Bank presidents who serve one year terms on a rotating basis. The FOMC holds eight regularly scheduled meetings a year to assess economic conditions and decide how loose or tight it wants monetary policy to be to further its stated goal of sustainable economic growth and price stability.

The FOMC literally has the power to create money out of nothing. It does it in a four step process:

Step 1 - The FOMC first approves the purchase of US government bonds on the open market.

Step 2 - The New York Fed bank buys them from sellers (financial markets always have an equal number of buyers and sellers).

Step 3 - The Fed pays for its purchases with electronic credits to the sellers' banks, which, in turn, credit the sellers' bank accounts. These credits are literally created out of nothing.

Step 4 - The banks receiving the credits can then use them as reserves to enable them to loan out as much as 10 times their amount (if their reserve requirement is 10%) through the magic (only banks have) of fractional reserve banking and, of course, collect interest on all of it. What a business, and it's all legal. Imagine how rich we might all be if we as private individuals could do the same thing. Borrow a million from the Fed and like magic it becomes 10 times as much, and we get to collect interest on all but the 10% of it we must hold in reserve. This is the magic of fractional reserve banking money creation and explains how powerful an economic stimulus it is when the Fed wants to enhance economic growth.

When the Fed wishes to contract the economy by reducing the money supply, it simply reverses the above process. Instead of buying bonds, it sells them so that money moves out of the buyers' bank accounts instead of into them. Bank loans must then be reduced by 10 times if the reserve requirement is 10%.